Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob.
Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.
Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed. There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words.
He had another dream, and told it to his brothers, saying, “Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, “What kind of dream is this that you have had? Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?” So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.” So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.
He came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.
Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt. (NRSV)
Joseph is in a pickle. He is his father’s favorite and he has a special coat to prove it. None of the others have such a beautiful garment. They are jealous. Then Joseph has these two dreams and while the meaning is clear to him, he might have been more tactful to keep it to himself. The brothers were already jealous. This new information was NOT going to be endearing to them.
At seventeen, he was old enough to be out working with them. The scripture tells us he had done some shepherding work already, but this time, for whatever reason, he was back at home base while the others were out with the flocks. His father sends him out to check on them. The previous time he did that he brought back a bad report. “Brothers were supposed to cover for brothers… but not that little nitwit Joseph who had been back with daddy lazing around and doing who knows what.” they imagined. The sight of him whips them into a murderous rage. Ruben the oldest and most mature of them comes to his senses and prevents them from killing him, but they throw him into a well. Thankfully they pick one with no water in it so he is not drowned. About that time the caravan comes into view and the boys get the idea to sell him to traders headed for Egypt.
Joseph is in a pickle, partly of his own making. I know, I know, that is victim-blaming, but Joseph is not entirely innocent here… like most biblical characters! And like most of us.
He cannot save himself. He is powerless to find a solution. But Joseph is not alone and he knows it.
The text we have before us doesn’t tell us that. We have to read further into Genesis to find out what happens. But next week’s Old Testament reading skips all the way to the end of the story. There is a happy ending. But a lot of years go by and there is a lot that happens along the way that makes the ending noteworthy.
In the short run, Joseph is in a pickle. But in the long run, Joseph keeps the faith, looks to God for guidance, takes the high road at every opportunity and rises above what has been done TO him. Joseph knows that whatever is done TO him, he always has a choice about how to respond, what to do next, what he should think about and what his focus should be. He knows his focus has to be on God, he should think about what is good and right to do, he tells the truth when given the opportunity and uses his God given gifts to be a blessing to those around him. And because he does this AT EACH AND EVERY OPPORTUNITY, even though some pretty despicable things are done TO him in the short run, in the long run, he will be an instrument of God’s grace rather than an obstacle to it.
You might be in a pickle now, but don’t be fooled. God is with you. You have choices in the short run that will determine what happens in the long run. May you be an instrument of God’s grace by taking the high road, telling the truth, using your God given talents to be a blessing to those around you.
blessings to you,
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.